James returned with a new album earlier this year, six years after their previous work.
In the life of most bands, it would seem monumental, a comeback or heralded return.
While there was some fanfare about the release of Le Petit Mort, it’s merely the latest in a long line of interesting points in their CV.
Compare it to the time, after the release of their debut album, that members of the band enrolled on medical trials to earn money, or the bank loan they secured to record their second album, not to mention the ever-changing early line-up and serious drug problems that almost ended them several times, splits and reformations, and a long gap between albums looks like a tiny bump in the road. Their path has never run smooth.
“There was always going to be another album,” begins singer Tim Booth, adding that the band didn’t reform in 2007 to play endless greatest hits tours. “We were born to play new music,” he says. “We’re cautious with those old songs, and we didn’t want to do what Pixies did, with nostalgia tours. It became too rote, but you have to challenge yourself and take risks as a band.”
Le Petit Mort, their 13th album, could certainly be described as taking a risk. It’s an album inspired by the death of Booth’s mother and his best friend, and features not only suitably emotional lyrics, but some of the most experimental music of their career, too. It began back in November 2012, shortly after they’d finished touring.
“We locked ourselves into a house by a Loch in Scotland, in the middle of winter,” says Booth.
“We knew we had an album,” continues bassist Glennie. “Normally, we find it very tedious editing down massive amounts of music, but this was different, it was all in more order and it was a very productive time.”
Despite the break since 2008’s Hey Ma, time was of the essence when it came to making Le Petit Mort, the band keen to record the album in the small window they had available. Now signed to BMG and indie label Cooking Vinyl, James had the money behind them to afford a stay in some of London’s most-established studios. One such studio was RAK, founded in the 1970s by producer Mickie Most.
“It was funny when we were there,” says Booth. “We all got on so well with the staff, but after a couple of weeks, we found out that they’d been warned before we arrived. The manager of the studio said ‘They might look a mild-mannered bunch, but they were here in the 1990s and they’re the most rock ‘n’ roll band we’ve ever had’.
“Because of the wild time we had, most of us didn’t remember what we’d done that was so horrific, so we had to be reminded. There was one story about me wearing a thong, a fur coat and heels getting ready to go to a club that was entertaining. No one sold stories in those days, so it remained secret. And these days, I prefer big Y fronts.”
James’s gig at Birmingham’s NIA tomorrow is the penultimate date on the UK leg of their current tour and what happens next is unclear.
“It feels fragile and delicate,” says Glennie. “And in some ways, because of that, I don’t feel like it’s something that can go on forever. It’s step by step, record by record, but there’s a long history of that – we’ve been together 32 years – so it’s more stable than a lot of seemingly less turbulent careers. If it’s all been a hand of cards, we’re just waiting to get the next card to see if we can carry on.”
They credit their break between 2001 and 2007 as the thing that kept them going, putting new life into a band that wasn’t getting on.
Older and wiser, the band are very aware of the things that made them fall out first time around. Band member Larry Gott adds: “Now we’ve had that time apart, we all remember what we missed about the band.”